My mother told my brother that friends will come and go, but family will always be there.
We knew she was wrong.
My parents served in the navy, thus we played the plinko board of resettling every couple years before rooting ourselves in coastal Carolina. Our New York family would call often and when it counted, such as birthdays, holidays, weekends, etc. They were my brother’s and my connection to something beyond ourselves, a family mythology that told the story of where we came from Before. Growing up in The City, The Latin music, the community, the languages, the food all seemed implausible, from another place and time that we couldn’t truly fathom. As we were raised in North Carolina, we grew distant from the Family. Not so much black sheep, but rather what was to be the expected product of Hispanics growing up in a predominantly white Southern society. The mythologies became just stories. The connections weakened.
Around puberty, Marco and I realized that my mother’s saying was just another story. My uncles would berate me for looking gay because I spiked my hair (I thought it was cool). I would be instructed never to bring home any woman who did not fit their racial, religious, ethnic, or nationality requirements for fear of having my legs broken. And if I happened to be gay… well forget about those threats. Ties to our xenophobic immigrant family and a Hispanic culture began to fade in the South, which was another point of ‘otherness’. Marco and I realized that it was actually our friends who would be there for us, to understand - or try to-, to comfort without judgment, and pick us up when we fell. We translated this realization to our mother differently, putting as at odds with her expectations.
As with most freshman, attending college was as much an academic pursuit as it was a true test of resolve and independence. Marco became independent much earlier than me, experiencing life’s darker side alone, and paying for it many years. I have always been better at translating my thoughts into words that my mother and family could understand. This led both of us to feel that I was the Golden Child and he was the Mistake. However, attending college tested my independence years after a much younger Marco tested his.
It was on move in day that I met my best friend. There was a sudden *click*. A few months later, I met a new ‘family’, or rather what I envisioned a family to be. It was in Pi Lambda Phi that I pivoted towards who I wanted to become as an adult. For me, the creed of inclusion was a very different foundation for a social structure to be built upon than the one I had experienced in my family’s lore. For me, it was amazing to stumble into (literally) a family that asked that you view the world through the lens of equality as a right for all. Yes, while our country was built on such a premise, no one can argue that institutional and social prejudice don’t exist in most every facet of American life. Every day we see people make speak, act, and react based on their disposition towards another person’s gender, sex, skin color, religion, affiliations, etc. Inequalities in our community became visible and fueled our philanthropy. By doing so, we were able to have open discussions with characters we never may have encountered, drank with, or challenged otherwise. And no, we didn’t always get along. A family doesn’t always see eye to eye and factions form, but we had something critical in common that we put central to our sense of selves. From this a fraternity was built.
Who I was in college was a rambunctious kid. Hell, who I was last month was a rambunctious kid. The entire way, it has always been my family who was there for me. Family not by blood, but by core values. The family built upon trust and open discussion; challenging each other with ideologies in order to reach our potential. The family of rotating membership as careers and passions grow into amorphous paths taking us around the world.
Marco and I speak to each other at birthdays and at funerals. Maybe someday our lives will converge and an ‘A-ha’ moment will be had. Maybe someday we will look at each other and realized we were truly family. Life hasn’t worked out that way for us yet. For now, we rely on the families we’ve piecemealed together.